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[ISM Updates] The Earth is Closing in on Us

1. The Earth is Closing in on Us

2. The shells have been falling non stop

3. MP’s call for sanctions against Israel over shootings

4. Calls for UK to act over Britons shot dead in Gaza

5. British peace activist, Tom Hurndell, was ‘intentionally killed’

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1. The Earth is Closing in on Us

April 11, 2006

By Leila el Haddad (http://a-mother-from-gaza.blogspot.com/)

The shells keep falling. They’ve gotten inside my head, so that its not just my house shaking but but my brain throbbing. It’s like someone is banging a gong next to my ear every few minutes; sometimes 5 times a minute, like last night. And just when I savor a few moments of silence, it starts again as if to say ‘you’re not going to get away that easily.’

We went to sleep to the rattling of our windows and invasive pounding and after-echo of the shells. We sleep as they fall. We pray fajir, and they fall again. We wake, and they are still falling. When they are closer, when they fall in Shija’iya east of Gaza City, they make my stomach drop. And I want to hide, but I don’t know where.

The Earth is Closing in on Us.

That’s the thing about occupation-it invades even your most private of spaces. And while the shells were falling inside my head, they also killed little Hadil Ghabin today.

A shell landed on her home in Beit Lahiya, shattering her helpless body and injuring 5 members of her family, including Hadil’s pregnant mother, Safia, and her 19-year-old sister.

My headeaches seem inconsequential when I think of little Hadil.

Sometimes people here say they prefer death to this existence; you’ll frequently here at funerals: ‘Irta7at’-she’s more comfortable now anyhow-what was there to live for here?’

The Earth is squeezing us

I wish we were its wheat so we could die and live again.

That has become our sad reality. Death provides relief.

Sometimes it feels like we are all in some collective torture room; who is playing God with us this night, I wonder? When I look up into the sky, and hear the shells, or see the faceless helicopter gunships cruising intently through the moonlit sky, I wonder, do they see me?

And when the shells start falling again, I can’t help but imagine some beside-himself with boredom 18-year-old on the border, lighting a cig or SMSing his girlfriend back in Tel Aviv ‘just a few more rounds to go hon.-.give it another whirl, Ron, its been 2 minutes already.’

Sometimes, when I’m on edge, I might just yell out and wave my arms at them.

Do they hear me?

We decided to escape this evening to my father’s farm in central Gaza, where we roasted potatoes and warmed tea on a small mangal, as we listened to thikr about the Prophet on the occasion of his mawlid from a nearby mosque, under the ominous roars of fighter jets, patrolling the otherwise lonely skies above.

‘Where are you heading off to?’ asked Osama, the shopkeeper downstairs. ‘Off to the farm. We’re suffocating,’ I replied, Yousuf tugging at my arm- ‘mama-Yallah! Yallah!’

‘Wallah Laila, we’re not just suffocating-we’re asphyxiating. I feel I can’t breathe anymore. And my head is pounding and pounding.

All I hear is BOOM boom now.’

The Earth is Closing in on Us.

And little Hadil is dead.

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2. The shells have been falling non stop

April 10th, 2006

By Leila al Haddad from Gaza City

The shells have been falling non stop we are being silenced and consigned to the realm of the irrelevant, the over and done with they are nailing the coffin on Gaza. Gaza is like a neglected prison in zoo where the zookeepers turn off the faucets cast it aside. Occasionally, when the animals get really hungry, they poke and prod at them and throw them a bone.

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3. MP’s call for sanctions against Israel over shootings

April 11th, 2006

FromThe Telegraph

(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/04/11/usanctions.xml&sSheet=/portal/2006/04/11/ixportaltop.html)

Economic sanctions against Israel should be considered if the country refuses to put its soldiers before the courts in the UK over the death of two British peace activists, an MP has said. Sir Gerald Kaufman, Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, claimed there was an element in the Israeli military which was ‘out of control’.

He was speaking about the deaths of Tom Hurndall, 22, and James Miller, 34, who were both shot in the Gaza Strip in 2003.

Yesterday an inquest jury returned a verdict that Mr Hurndall had been ‘intentionally killed’ by a soldier and last week an inquest found Mr Miller had been murdered by the Israeli Defence Force less than a mile away in Rafah three weeks later.

Sir Gerald told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘One possibility is to ask for those who are accused of these murders to be brought to Britain to be tried in this country.

‘The second is to put them before an international war crimes tribunal.

‘If the Israelis don’t agree to either of those then I think we have got to consider economic sanctions against Israel.

‘The fact that she violates international norms is not justified because she has been a victim of international terrorism.’

But Hendon MP Andrew Dismore, who is also vice chairman of the Labour
Friends of Israel group, said Israel had carried out its own judicial inquiries into the deaths and the country was a democracy.

He said: ‘I don’t think it is going to add a great deal to the position.

‘Obviously we have to have great sympathy for the families of the two
British citizens who have been killed but the fact remains that Israel is a democracy, it operates under the rule of law.’

He added: ‘Frankly if we are trying to get a settlement in the Middle
East I don’t think talking about war crimes is going to take things a great deal further.’

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4. Calls for UK to act over Britons shot dead in Gaza

April 11th, 2006

FromThe Guardian

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,1751369,00.html)

The attorney general was last night called on to seek war crimes charges against five Israeli officers after an inquest jury found that a soldier under their command intentionally killed a British peace activist in Gaza.

Tom Hurndall, 22, died after being shot in broad daylight by an Israeli soldier who later said his commanders had issued orders allowing him to shoot even unarmed civilians. Sergeant Taysir Hayb was convicted of manslaughter by an Israeli court and jailed for eight years for shooting Mr Hurndall in April 2003 as the Briton tried to rescue children who froze in fear after the soldier opened fire.

Yesterday a jury at St Pancras coroner’s court in London found Mr Hurndall had been unlawfully killed and deliberately shot by the soldier ‘with the intention of killing him’. Lawyers for the Hurndall family said this amounted to a finding that the peace activist had been murdered.

Last week the same court found that a journalist, James Miller, had been murdered after being shot by an Israeli soldier three weeks after Mr Hurndall, and just one mile away in southern Gaza.

Andrew Reid, the coroner who heard both cases, announced he would write to the attorney general about how similar fatalities could be prevented, including examining possible prosecutions of Israeli commanders. In court Dr Reid said he would write to the attorney because the case raised wider issues of command in the Israeli military and because ‘two British citizens engaged in lawful activities’ had been killed by Israeli soldiers.

Dr Reid said Israel’s army posed a danger to British nationals, especially those covering the continuing conflict with the Palestinians:

‘British citizens, journalists, photographers or others may be subject to the risk of fatal shots.’

The coroner said he would write to the attorney general about whether his powers under the Geneva Conventions Act, namely seeking the prosecution of those involved in issuing orders about when soldiers can shoot, could ‘prevent similar fatalities’. Dr Reid’s actions boost the Hurndall family’s demand that Israeli officers be tried for involvement in the killing of their son.

The dead man’s father, Anthony Hurndall, said: ‘The British government is obliged to pursue any source of a war crime, and wilful killing is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions Act.’

After the verdict a government source told the Guardian the attorney general would ‘not shy away’ from acting, and that ‘upsetting the
Israelis’ would not stop the case being pursued.

Michael Mansfield QC, who represented the family at the inquest, said: ‘Make no mistake about it, the Israeli defence force have today been found culpable by this jury of murder.’

The family will seek a meeting with senior British ministers to press them to act, and do not rule out a private prosecution.

The jury criticised Israel for its ‘lack of cooperation’ with the inquest, with the Israeli government declining to take part and even hampering a British police investigation. In court Anthony Hurndall accused Israel of ‘lies’.

The jury heard extracts from the journal of the peace activist, who travelled to Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement. Days before he was shot, Mr Hurndall, a photography student from north London, wrote how he had already been fired at: ‘I kept expecting a part of my body to be hit by an ‘invisible’ force and shot of pain - I wondered what it would be like to be shot, and strangely I wasn’t too scared.’

In a later passage he writes about being in the sights of an Israeli sniper: ‘It is in the decision of any one Israeli soldier or settler that my life depends. I know that I’d probably never know what hit me.’

Israel’s embassy in London expressed sympathy for the Hurndall family and said: ‘Throughout the investigation and trial, the Israeli authorities maintained close contact with both the Hurndall family and the British authorities, and at the conclusion of the proceedings a full account was given to them.’

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5. British peace activist was ‘intentionally killed’

April 10, 2006

FromGuardian Unlimited

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1750915,00.html)

A jury has ruled that a British activist shot while acting as a human shield in the Gaza Strip was ‘intentionally killed’. Tom Hurndall, from north London, was wearing an orange jacket to mark him out as a peace activist.

The 22-year-old had apparently been trying to move young Palestinian children from the line of fire when he was hit in the head. He was left in a coma and died nine months later.

Speaking after the hearing, the Hurndall family representative, Michael Mansfield QC, said they were delighted with the verdict. However, he stressed there was still work to be done.

‘Make no mistake about it, the Israeli defence force have today been found culpable by this jury of murder,’ he said.

The family accused the Israeli authorities of a ‘cover-up’, calling on the British government to take action under the Geneva convention.
They said it should investigate, and if necessary extradite the five
Israeli officers they believe made up the a chain of command which led to Mr Hurndall being shot.

If this did not happen the family would consider pursuing justice through the courts. Earlier, Mr Hurndall’s mother had criticised the government for not speaking out about her son’s death.

‘We are astonished to this day that Tony Blair has never publicly condemned the shooting of Tom,’ Joyce Hurndall said. ‘It is necessary for the Israelis to hear condemnation from him.’

She said the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, had never seemed to ‘expect an apology’ from the Israelis over the shooting.

Initially, the Israeli army denied a soldier from an army watchtower had shot Mr Hurndall, but witnesses at the demonstration in the Palestinian town of Rafah said he had been hit by a rifle bullet while trying to shield the children.

Following a hard-fought campaign by the peace activist’s family, ex-sergeant Taysir Hayb was convicted at an Israeli military court of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in prison last year.

He was the first soldier to be convicted over the death of a foreign national during recent Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The inquest heard how Mr Hurndall, who had been taking photographs in

Iraq before going to the Gaza Strip with the International Solidarity

Movement (ISM) activist group, had contemplated what it would be like to be hit by a bullet.

Ms Hurndall said she had received an email from Tom on April 11, just hours before the shooting. He reported being ‘shot at, gassed and chased’ by soldiers during the five days he was in Rafah and described the danger that both he and the Palestinians were facing.
She also described what she thought had been her son’s last words.
Around half an hour before he was shot, he had been talking to a
Palestinian man, who had been telling him how difficult life was for residents in Rafah, she told the hearing.

‘Tom put his hand on his shoulder and said: ‘We want to make a difference’,’ she said. ‘Really, those were his last words.’ Mr Hurndall’s father, Anthony, told the hearing that his son and other activists from the ISM had gone out to try and block tanks that had been shooting into houses at random.

He said Tom had seen a group of ten to 15 children playing on a mound of sand, and noticed that bullets were hitting the ground between them.

The children fled, but several were overcome with fear and could not move.

‘Tom went to take one girl out of the line of fire, which he did successfully, but when he went back, as he knelt down [to collect another], he was shot.’

Mr Hurndall said the Israelis had initially admitted someone had been shot, but claimed it had been a gunman who had opened fire first.
After photographs of Tom having been shot in the head emerged, the
Israeli military later admitted that Hayb - a sentry who had won prizes for marksmanship - had shot him using telescopic sights.

‘They just lied continuously,’ Mr Hurndall’s father said. ‘It was a case of them shooting civilians and then making up a story. And they were not used to being challenged.’ There had been a ‘general policy’ for soldiers to be able to shoot civilians in that area without fear of reprisals, he added.

Although Hayb had been sentenced, the issue of the ‘culture’ within the Israeli army had not been addressed, he said. ‘This goes much higher up the chain.’

The ten-strong jury at the inquest into the death of Mr Hurndall, a
Manchester Metropolitan University student, also expressed its ‘dismay with the lack of cooperation from the Israeli authorities’.

Mr Hurndall was shot a mile away from where the award-winning cameraman James Miller had died three weeks beforehand. Last week, a jury ruled the Israeli defence force had deliberately killed the 34-year-old during the incident in May 2003.

The coroner, Dr Andrew Reid, said he would be writing to the attorney general to see whether there was any further legal action that could be taken in relation to the deaths.

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